Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden delivered remarks on his administration’s COVID-19 response, and signed executive orders and other presidential actions. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to scrap a “deadly” Trump-era policy banning funding for aid groups that discuss abortion could unleash billions in dollars for life-saving services in developing countries, women’s rights groups said on Thursday.

“It’s very, very good news. It sends a strong message that reproductive rights are human rights,” said Evelyne Opondo, Africa director at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“I’m hoping this will allow many clinics to reopen across Africa and save thousands of women’s lives,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Story continues below advertisement

Almost $9 billion in U.S. foreign aid is at stake under the “Mexico City Policy”, also known as the “global gag rule”, which prevents foreign groups providing abortion services or counselling from receiving U.S. funding.

Those that have rejected the ban have lost funding, forcing them to shut reproductive health clinics and other services including HIV care.

Opondo said the closures had hit women in rural areas particularly hard.

“Women have died because they were not able to access facilities. They’ve died due to pregnancy and childbirth complications, and complications from unsafe abortions as well.”

Organisations said the policy had also increased stigma around abortion and emboldened anti-abortion groups globally.

“Unfortunately, this will not change overnight. (We) will have to do a lot of work in the communities to undo this harm,” said Tendai Mafuma, a researcher with Johannesburg health rights centre Section27.

Launched in the Reagan era, the policy has been imposed by Republican presidents and revoked by Democratic presidents.

Story continues below advertisement

However, Trump greatly expanded the ban to cover funding for all global health assistance.

Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to Biden, told the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday that the president would revoke the rule in the coming days as part of the new administration’s “commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality”.

MSI Reproductive Choices, a global provider of contraception, abortion and post-abortion care previously called Marie Stopes International, said the rule had cost it $30 million a year in funding.

This would have allowed it to prevent an estimated 6 million unintended pregnancies, 1.8 million unsafe abortions and 20,000 maternal deaths during the four years of Trump’s presidency, MSI said.

MSI Chief Executive Simon Cooke called the policy deadly, adding that restricting abortion access did not stop women having them, but just made them less safe.

“It’s done untold damage,” he said. “This has forced women to be more stigmatised and seek out services which put them at risk, and in some of the worst cases led to their deaths.”

Story continues below advertisement

He said Biden’s decision to lift the ban would “help restore the U.S. as a world leader in championing gender equality and reproductive healthcare”.

But Cooke said it could take a year before groups like MSI could access funding, partly because of the time needed to bid for new contracts and grants.

The International Women’s Health Coalition, which promotes reproductive health rights, said the ban had caused “devastating long term consequences”, including clinic closures, redundancies and the loss of organisation’s relationships with communities.

“Those things are not going to recover overnight,” said Nina Besser Doorley, IWHC programme officer for U.S. foreign policy.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies